My Block

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Last year I started a project in which I set out to document my neighborhood in Northeast D.C. ,tentatively called 'The Rhode Island Project.' It's a sort of double meaning as anyone who's visited my neighborhood has experienced the dilapidated buildings, the sidewalk drug dealings, the random sparks of gunfire on occasion, the excessive number of liquor stores, etc. Living on a main road that leads to downtown also drives up noise and activity levels in the area. But outside of those things are plots of land with incredible opportunity to bring more life into the community. There are underutilized spaces where a community garden or a basketball court for kids could be constructed. The Safeway grocery store that used to service an entire neighborhood living on small means closed back in March, but the building itself--if under the right management--could be a clinic providing affordable health care services. Or it could be a YMCA, or a small studio. Something!

But just as important as its infrastructure is the people of Rhode Island/Brentwood. There's a huge youth population here. That's primarily because there are two schools close by, plus a youth center run by the neighborhood church Greater Mount Calvary (who, incidentally, has a lyric in its church song that goes "The Church in the hood/ That will do you good!").

So in the winter of last year I set out to document my block a la Bruce Davidson with his infamous serious "East 100th Street". It takes a lot of conversation with your neighbors, with shop owners, with people you see on the street to be able to photograph them, but living here and being part of the community allows access that you won't get any other way. And a little sincerity for the people you live among goes a long way. They have some of the same concerns about their community as any outsider, but their lens is a bit different.

Jimmy (who you see standing in front of the gate) is a cook at a hotel downtown and is the sweetest man you'll ever meet. Eric, rocking the mini Mohawk next to him, is a good friend who lives just down the street from me and is a skateboarder and entrepreneur, creating his own graphic design company. The man in the wheelchair is Tucker, a veteran of Vietnam and is like the eyes of community. He lives in my building and sees everything that happens in the neighborhood. But the best part of this ongoing project is getting to know the people I live among. It's wonderful when they oblige to being photographed, but that's just my initial "hello" opening the door for the actual conversation to happen. More photos to come!

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